For those who had ever frequented the Continental Hotel's upper level back in its heyday, stepping into Audrey's will come as a pleasant shock. It would be an understatement to say the space – once affectionately known as 'the dungeon at the Conti' – was previously far less refined than its current iteration as Scott Pickett's (Smith St Bistrot, Estelle, Chancery Lane) new dazzler. Audrey’s is about as far from a dungeon as it gets, with wall-to-wall windows lining the dining room overlooking sea views of Sorrento. You arrive to plush green velvet booths, white tablecloths and a grand raw marble bar with caviar, oysters and seafood atop.
It’s a new golden age for regional restaurants. After many outward-looking years in which we’ve been in thrall to the glittering lure of planes over trains, a certain pandemic has wrested attention back to our own backyard.
It’s a bit like falling in love again. Or for those discovering regions and restaurants for the first time, a case of “Where have you been all my life?”
We’re doubly blessed in Victoria. The state’s compact size means you can start your engines after breakfast and reach any of Time Out’s best regional shortlist in time for a coffee before lunch.
Plenty of these contenders go beyond simply being great restaurants that happen to be in regional Victoria. They offer a taste of place (no, we won’t say “terroir”), a celebration of their local producers, and often a demonstration of their own paddock-to-plate efforts that see chefs turn into farmers for part of their week. It’s a micromanaging of the supply line that leaves us completely in awe.
Look no further than Tedesca, which could look like the most delightful kind of farmhouse restaurant cosplay until you learn about chef Brigitte Hafner’s own adventures in rearing sheep and raising crops for the menus. Hashtag commitment.
Or Brae, where Dan Hunter’s kitchen garden is a thing to behold, and bycatch from the ocean is turned into the luxest of eats. Proving you don’t have to be in some remote back country, Aaron Turner’s Igni brings flame-grilled locavorism to backstreet Geelong. Then there’s the likes of O.My, which straddles the city/country divide, ensuring our outmost love and respect for the suburban Packenham rail line.
Our advice? Pack your bag, head on out and make a weekend of it. You’re guaranteed good eating… hell, you might even expand your horizons.